Asian American Stars Shine in Hollywood

Published in Asian Fortune on

Have you noticed the constant spotlight beamed on Asian American onscreen talents? Is this the beginning of their golden opportunities in Hollywood?

Remarked top Asian American leader Karen Narasaki: “The progress being made in Hollywood is exciting. Talented Asian Americans are finally being given more opportunities and they are shining. Sandra Oh’s well- deserved Golden Globe award for her brilliant performance in the TV drama series ‘Killing Eve’ broke one glass ceiling.”

She added: “But I’m only cautiously optimistic. It took Sandra Oh four years to be cast after leaving ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ where she had been nominated three times for an Emmy for best Actress. And ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ was based on a runaway bestseller, whose main premise required the lead role to be a Chinese American, yet a producer still wanted to cast a Caucasian as the lead actress.“

“Asian Americans need to continue to press Hollywood and the corporations who help to greenlight both television and movie projects to tell our stories and to see us as being able to carry films and shows in leading roles,” she said.

Narasaki has always championed the cause of Asian American showbiz talents, onscreen and behind the cameras (scriptwriters, film editors, directors). The erstwhile National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium (NAPALC) published with affiliate organizations two reports, including Asian Pacific Americans in Primetime (2005), when she was its president and executive director.

K.J. Bagchi, Senior Staff Attorney for Telecommunications, Technology, and Media at Advancing Justice | AAJC, noted: “Shows with Asian American characters who carry or help to carry the show such as ‘Fresh Off the Boat,’ ‘The Good Place,’ ‘Quantico,’ and previously, ‘Dr. Ken,’ should prove to Hollywood that people will watch a show with Asian American lead actors.”

Sandra Oh Triumphs

Sandra Oh made history three times on January 6, 2019, as noted by Constance Grady in her story for Vox news website. She is the first person of Asian descent to host the Golden Globe awards. She also made history as the first Asian woman in 39 years to win a Golden Globe for best actress in a TV drama. And of course, she made history by winning an award while co-hosting the show.

This is Sandra’s second Golden Globe Award for the same role. Weeks later, she won as Female Actor in a Drama Series for the same role at the 25th Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards presentation. Recognition and validation of her extraordinary talents: This is definitely her year.

Weeks later, the Critics Circle awarded “Crazy Rich Asians” the Best Comedy Award. At the SAG awards night on January 27, offstage the casts of “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Black Panther” hung out and posted group photos on Instagram. A Yahoo News story pointed out: “These pictures alone should win a statuette…the casts of diverse watershed movies “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” came together for an epic photo.”

          “Given the cultural impact of “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians,” which symbolized wins in black and Asian representation, fans (understandably) became emotional at the sight of the photo,” the story noted.

          “Crazy Rich Asians,” the Hollywood romance comedy (romcom in Hollywood lingo) cost $30 million to make. It earned $238.4 million, according to Wikipedia. The film is based on the bestseller by Asian author Kevin Kwan. It starred an all-Asian cast, led by Constance Wu of the TV hit “Fresh Off the Boat” and Henry Golding. Wu plays Rachel, a college professor who accepts boyfriend Nick’s (Henry) invitation to go to Singapore and attend his friend’s wedding.

She soon learns that Nick and his family are among the country’s wealthiest families. Nick’s mom (Michelle Yeoh) tells her to her face that she would “never be” a part of their family. But Rachel eventually wins her over when she walked away from marrying Nick, in a show of sacrifice and also defiance. The feel-good movie ends with Nick on his knees, asking for her hand in marriage. And the engagement ring? It is his mom’s precious emerald ring.

          On top of all the Hollywood good news was the announcement that Michelle Yeoh, already an international name, was tapped to star in her own series in a “Star Trek” spin-off. Yeoh, a martial arts expert, has a reputation for being an excellent actress as well. One of these exquisite movies was “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

Challenges and a ‘Beginning’   

So, is Hollywood finally opening its doors wide for talented Asian Americans? Hmmm, “Crazy Rich Asians” heavy hitters and advocates both say, “Not so fast.”

Here’s what Advancing Justice | AAJC Senior Staff Attorney for Telecommunications, Technology, and Media Bagchi has to say: “It’s never been easy for people of color, in particular Asian American actors, to get work in Hollywood. While we have seen major strides with Crazy Rich Asians at the box office last spring, which featured a strong performance by Michelle Yeoh who was also cast as the lead in CBS’ new ‘STAR TREK’ series, we know that TV and film continue to struggle with balancing the diversity onscreen that we see in our everyday lives.”

          “Hawaii Five-0 was once a show the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community could hold up as an example of how AAPIs can be integral to a show,” said Executive Director John C. Yang of  Advancing Justice | AAJC. Advancing Justice | AAJC was previously known as NAPALC, a group of strong advocates of justice and civil rights, as well as Asian American TV and Hollywood talents.

He added: “We were extremely disappointed that the contributions of Dae Kim and Park were not viewed as such when they went into contract negotiations. Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park not returning to Hawaii Five-O due to pay inequity shines a further spotlight on the difficulties that people of color face in the industry.”

          Fortunately, “Crazy Rich Asians,” with its huge box-office success, as well as its pool of creative talents – author, scriptwriters and director – has made it possible for Asian Americans to gain the upper hand and control their destiny, so to speak.

 The creative talents behind “Crazy Rich Asians” turned down a lucrative offer from Netflix because they wanted mass distribution of the film. The Guardian newspaper reported that several big-time Hollywood producers vied for the rights to “Crazy Rich Asians.” Author Kevin Kwan recalled that one of them wanted a white actress to play the lead role of Asian American Rachel. Kwan said they “did not even bother” to get back to that producer. How cool is that?

CNN, reporting on the runaway success of “Crazy Rich Asians,” ran the headline, “Hollywood finally got the message about representation.” A sequel is in development (“Crazy Rich Girlfriend”). As “Crazy Rich Asians” Director Chu said last year during the movie’s gold opening weekend, “This is just the beginning.”